Ultra Orthodox Jews are silhouetted against a bonfire during celebrations for the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba'Omer in Kfar Chabad, near the city of Lod, May 17, 2014. The holiday, which marks the end of a plague in the Middle Ages that killed thousands of disciples of a revered rabbi in the holy land, is celebrated by lighting bonfires across the country. REUTERS/Amir Cohen (ISRAEL - Tags: RELIGION TRAVEL SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY) - RTR3PN7L

Bonfire of the iPhones

This rabbi had some trouble convincing his flock to give up their smartphones

In Israel, Jews have long used the religious holiday of Lag BaOmer to burn likenesses of people they hate, from Adolf Hitler (as a puppet with a mustache) to Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser (as a puppet with military fatigues).

Now, apparently, some ultra-Orthodox Jews have a new enemy to torch: iPhones.

In many places, people queue up around for the latest iPhone, or shoot video of themselves rhapsodically unboxing their new devices. But in central Israel this past weekend, people were lining up to trash their sleek phones.

In the video, a local rabbi hurls phones and tablets onto a bonfire, to the rapture of the crowd assembled around him. When one iPhone falls short of the flames, the rabbi, Moshe Ben-Moshe from the town of Netanya, asks the crowd: “Did you see that? The iPhone doesn’t want to be burned! Because it is the evil inclination itself (yetzer hara).” He then holds two tablet computers brought to him by a teenager. “The boy asked that we burn them,” he says before tossing them in the fire. “God bless you all. You are heroes!”

The video went viral in Israel, with some commenters on the Facebook page of the videographer asking, “What country exactly are we living in?” and others, among them ultra-Orthodox Jews themselves, calling it an act of paganism.

The rabbi and his followers are from the Haredi community, a group of about 1 million Orthodox Jews worldwide who believe in the full rejection of modern secular culture. They’ve banned TVs and radios from their homes, and created a kosher Internet connection and kosher cellphones. But the smartphone has proved to be too tempting for many of their followers. After all, it’s kind of useful at work and to call and text with friends and family, and there is a whole world of religious apps, with prayer times, prayer texts and some highly active Haredi WhatsApp groups.

The phone also provides access to pornography, apps that show uncensored news, gossip, and all the other elements of modernity and vice that the ultra-Orthodox leadership is trying to hide from the flock to preserve old customs.

So the iPhone has become a devil incarnate for the Haredi. That’s why smartphone-smashing ceremonies have become more common in recent years, and there are signs in Haredi neighborhoods calling the iPhone “evil,” “dangerous” and “satanic.” The public burning of the iPhones Sunday wasn’t isolated event. On Meron Mountain in northern Israel, where tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gather every year for the traditional bonfire, iPhones were hanged as targets with titles like “un-kosher” and “Interphone for sick minds” for teenagers to shoot with arrows.

But not all the iPhones wound up in the flames at Haredi gatherings this weekend. In fact, some members of the ultra-Orthodox crowd were filming the ceremonies…with their smartphones.

Gilad Shiloach contributed Deep Web reporting to this article.

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